We apparently now live in a country where it is considered OK for motorists to run down protesters if they are “obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway.” That is what North Dakota lawmaker Keith Kempenich is claiming in his House Bill 1203.
Most of us are horrified by the idea of vehicles plowing into groups of pedestrians, yet six other Republican legislators think it’s a good idea as well, as evidenced by their sponsorship of the bill, which reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense.”
Kempenich told the Bismarck Tribune that the legislation was aimed squarely at the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, and that “It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian.”
Flatly ignoring the requirements of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment, this Republican claims public highways are “not there for the protesters.” As for those who exercise their legal right to protest, “They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”
Apparently so in Kempenich’s North Dakota. At least, if he has his way. He says of the protests, “It puts people on edge. People who live out there are feeling terrorized.” Apparently, he wants to spread that terror around to include people exercising their constitutional right to protest.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s Republican paradise. Ask John Lewis how it feels to be a dissenter in Trump’s America.
Here’s where this truly terrible idea was born: Kempenich’s road rage:
Kempenich said his mother-in-law, on a few occasions, was traveling south of Mandan and came upon groups of protesters gathered on and near roadways.
He said, on one occasion, about 100 cars were parked along a road in Morton County and his mother-in-law was passing through and slowed down. He said at one point an individual jumped out in front of the vehicle and was waving a sign.
Which must have given birth to Kempenich’s fantasies of simply being able to run down the pesky protesters. Republicans already speak of anyone showing dissent who is not a tea partier as an anarchist. It is a small step from there to dehumanize them as vermin to be driven over.
Native activist Tara Houska told NBC News,
“It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space. These [bills] are meant to criminalize the protests with no real concern for constitutional law.”
A disregard which as of Inauguration Day will be coming from the top on down, as a man who plans to be in open violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause from Day One of his term as president is about to take office. Oh, and he happens to be a DAPL investor. As does his energy secretary.
As the Billings Gazette relates, Kempenich “chairs a board that decides how some of the state’s billions in oil wealth is invested,” so he has a vested interest in seeing the protesters driven off the roads as well.
Kempenich wants you to believe the legislation would rarely be applicable outside the protests, but one obvious problem with the legislation is that the word “protester” is not ever actually used the language of the bill.
In typical Republican under-thinking, the bill makes it legal to run down any pedestrian on any road, for apparently any reason, and with an “Oops! I meant to hit my break!” you get to walk away while they haul the pedestrian to the nearest morgue or hospital.
Remarkably, North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson opined that “Our involvement in this would be very minimal and limited.” With bodies potentially strewn all over North Dakota’s public roadways for any number of reasons, one has to beg to differ.
We have seen a great many truly stupid bills written by Republican legislators over the years, men and women who apparently lack even two brain cells to rub together, but this piece of legislation is particularly heinous and ill-thought-out and is to be distinguished by its sheer bloody-mindedness.
The mind boggles at what other horrors might await us in the fertile minds of Republican legislators across Red State America under Donald Trump.